Author: Mike Grayson

About Mike Grayson

I first began experimenting with virtual management in 1997, when many of the tools that are commonplace today didn't exist. I've managed teams that are dispersed around the world and across the nation for the past 18 years, and have learned what works and what doesn't. That is what I hope to share here. If you are looking for credentials... I've taught Innovation and Entrepreneurship for the Drucker Institute, a management think tank. I've also been the General Manager and Project Manager for Fortune 500 companies, and smaller organizations. I'm currently the CEO of FTI, a technology company in North Dallas that has developed systems for Goldman Sachs, The Department of Homeland Security, Texas Instruments, Pizza Hut and scores of others.

Primal Leadership

I’ve read some of Daniel Goleman’s work regarding Primal Leadership, and the over-riding thought seems to be, “The fundamental task of leaders is to prime good feeling in those they lead.”

One of the reviewers of Goleman’s book on Amazon wrote, “You may find yourself jumping up and down screaming, “Yes! Yes! Yes!,” to the book’s persuasive demand for better leaders, but you’re inevitably left whimpering, “Now what?””

So, the question is, how do you prime good feeling in those you lead? In other words, how do you inspire trust?

What I’ve discovered in 40 years of management, most of those being an avid student of Dr. Peter Drucker, is that the quickest way to “establish good feeling” with those on your team is occaisionally spend time with them, one on one, ask a few direct questions, and then “listen” to what they have to say. By letting them know that they, and their ideas, are important to you, does a great deal to promote a healthy relationship. (By the way… the same things applies to a healthy marriage.)

My favorite question, that I call the “magical 5 words” is: “What needs to be done?” When asked it can have amazing results. But don’t be surprised that when the first time it is asked, you get the “deer in the headlights” look. Because it is rarely asked, most of the time people are told what to do. But when they realize that what they think actually matters, and that somebody on the other end is listening, it engages their thinking on a higher level and has a synergistic effect on the entire team.


Team Building from the Inside Out

Are You on a Dysfunctional Team?

It is alarming that over 80% of all businesses are dysfunctional to one degree or another. According to a study done by the Harris Interactive 1, which polled over 23,000 people, many businesses have significant problems and need to take a closer look at their operations.

Here is how the people responded to a small portion of the survey, known as the xQ Questionnaire:

• 91% of the people working in business do not understand the goals of the team or department they work with. They have no idea “why” they are doing their jobs or what success looks like.

• 84% said that their teams do not work together to plan or achieve their goals.

• 85% said they did not have the resources to perform their jobs. This is a startling statistic.

• 90% said that team members do not hold one another accountable for their commitments. They fail to work together as a team.

What if this type of environment existed in a football team? Let’s examine what would happen.

Only one player on the team would know when they scored a touchdown. Everyone else would be running around the field fighting for the ball and expending a lot of physical and emotional energy but they would not know when they were successful and scored a touchdown. 91% of people polled responded that they do not understand what their goals are when they take the field and prepare to play the game in business. Is it any wonder that so many people hate their jobs? They are never fulfilled in knowing that they were successful and scored a touchdown. They don’t even know what a touchdown looks like. People get trapped in a routine and end up losing their enthusiasm, which results in half hearted efforts and poor service – not to mention dreading Monday mornings.

Only two players are working together and running the same play. The rest of the team either don’t care or don’t understand their positions on the team. How can a team move the ball down the field if only two of them are working together? What might be worse is that the other members of the teams are running different plays when the ball is snapped. 84% of people working in business say that their teams are not working together to achieve their goals. In the movie, “Cool Hand Luke”, the main character, Luke, is anything but a team player. He defies the prison environment he finds himself in because he knows it is broken. At one point, after a confrontation, the head prison guard tells Luke, “What we have here is a failure to communicate”. According to the survey, only 16% of the people surveyed feel they are communicating and working together as a team, the other 84% feel disenfranchised in a broken environment.

Only two players have invested the time to memorize and practice the plays. Everyone else is on the field but they are not prepared and may have even forgotten to bring the ball! They are not engaged or committed. When was the last time you walked into a store or restaurant and waited for a long time before they even noticed that you were there? According to this survey, you have close to an 80% chance of coming into contact with someone you are paying for service who either doesn’t care or isn’t involved in the process.

Only two players on the football team have complete uniforms. The rest of the team is missing helmets, shoulder pads, etc. Can you imagine if you sat down to watch the Super Bowl and the team showed up on the field and they did not have the right equipment?! Yet, only 15% of the people polled felt they had the resources to perform their jobs! Why have the coaches in our businesses allowed this happen!?

Perhaps the saddest statistic of all is that only one player on the field, out of the entire team, is motivated to win and holds other team members accountable. Can you imagine how frustrating it would be if you were the only one on the football field who cared about scoring a touchdown?

What To Do

What does one do if they are a member of a dysfunctional and broken team like Cool Hand Luke?

Go to your boss and tell him/her that you want them to be successful and your team to be more effective. Then ask him/her two questions:

1. What do I or my team do that helps you do your job?
2. What do I or my team do that hampers your ability to do your job?

Put the focus on how you can make your boss more successful, because if you help them succeed, you’ll likely succeed. People are looking for people they can trust, people who have their back – these folks are rare and usually cherished.

Then, write down the answers and ask your boss to give you time to think about what can be done. Talk to your team about it. Then, respond in a week or so with suggestions and get his/her feedback before making changes. Repeat the process at least once a year.

There are numerous examples of this working in real life, but one must have the courage to ask the boss these simple questions. One example was a fellow who had a team that created a fairly complex weekly report for his boss. He would give it to his boss, and his boss would spend hours redoing it. It wasn’t until he asked what he became aware that it was hampering his boss.

What you shouldn’t do is write down a list of complaints and things that you or your team think need to be changed and take them to your boss and demand they be changed. He/she may not have the power or resources to change them and it tends to shut down the discussion. You need to establish communication that will help you and your boss to work together to solve the problem.

1. Harris Interactive, xQ Questionanaire, Commissioned by Franklin-Covey, 60 Corporate Woods, Rochester, New York 14623-1457, September/October 2002.

How Inspire Your Team

How do you get the best out of every team member? I think that first you have to recognize that you cannot “make” a great team member. The team member must have the desire to do the work necessary to become the best that they can be.

What can you do? You can inspire them. You can show them that you have confidence in them, thereby giving them an inner confidence. If they have worked hard to become the best that they can be, then they shouldn’t have fear of failure, and your job would be to show them that when they fail, it doesn’t mean that they haven’t made progress.

The beauty about sports is that it can teach you how to deal with life – and failure. Show me a person who hasn’t failed, and I’ll show you a person who hasn’t tried.

Here is a speech made by Knute Rockne to his players at Notre Dame. Not only does he inspire, but he gives them the overall strategy of how they will win the game! When I read this, even I was ready to run down the field!

“Now-w the success of any team men is based on team-play — the same as you’ve shown all year –: Sacrifice; unselfish sacrifice! These are the fellows they say are pretty good; but I think we’re better! And I think if we get ourselves keyed up to a point, and when we’re confident of that … why-y-y the results will take care of themselves.

All right, now. On the kickoff — if we receive, the zone men will drop back to the receiver and block long — that old Notre Dame style. If we kickoff — which the rest of the teams want — let’s run down fast — just as fast as you can run. And then we go on defense. And on defense — I want the center in and out of that line — according to the situation. Use your old head! And I want you guards charging through as far as you can go — on every play. Expect the play right over you every time –.

And the tackles — I want you to go in a yard and a half — and then check yourselves. Spread your feet — squat down low — and be ready with your hands and elbows, so you won’t be sideswiped. But I want the ends in there fast every play. Every play, but under control. And you men in the backfield there, I want you to analyze it before you move. If they throw a forward pass, a zone pass, wait ‘til you see the ball in the air — and then go and get it! And when we get it, boys, that’s when we go on offense. And that’s when we go to ‘em — and, don’t forget, we’re gonna pick on one last one tackle that is weak.

We’re going inside of ‘em, we’re going outside of ‘em — inside of ‘em! outside of ‘em! — and when we get them on the run once, we’re going to keep ‘em on the run. And we’re not going to pass unless their secondary comes up too close. But don’t forget, men — we’re gonna get ‘em on the run, we’re gonna go, go, go, go! — and we aren’t going to stop until we go over that goal line! And don’t forget, men — today is the day we’re gonna win. They can’t lick us — and that’s how it goes… The first platoon men — go in there and fight, fight, fight, fight, fight! What do you say, men!”

The Employee Turnover Problem

I was recently involved in a discussion about the question “Why do so many losers get hired and promoted?”  The discussion eventually led to how one reduces employee turnover.  Employee turnover is very costly, and is unavoidable.  The AMA did a survey that showed 25% of companies were ineffective at retaining high performing employees.

Employees no longer feel loyalty to their companies.  It has also been proven that financial incentives don’t prevent people from leaving.  Companies that offer bonuses and options are often the ones with the greatest turn-over.  Compensation should be competitive within the industry, but it is a bad strategy to use it to retain employees.

So, what works?  Spending time with subordinates and getting to know them.  The biggest complaint often heard is that “nobody listens to them”.   Peter Drucker said that, “Meetings are a symptom of bad organization. The fewer meetings the better.”  However, the one meeting that he encouraged and stated that 15 minutes was far too short a time, was the performance review.

Most companies have adopted the policy of quarterly, semi-annual or annual performance reviews.  This is far too long a period of time to wait to have a meaningful discussion with a subordinate.  Even when the performance review is held, it is usually an uncomfortable situation where surprises frequently surface.  And the policy of linking salary with this type of discussion makes it even more tenuous.

Drucker recommended frequent and relaxed conversations with subordinates, taking 30 minutes or more.  It often takes that long to build rapport and understand the problems they are facing.  Asking them questions like: What are your greatest areas of stress?  Is there anything that keeps you awake at night?, this is done before discussing the assignment and may expose problems that you can do something about.  After you develop rapport with a subordinate you can focus on the assignment that you delegated to them.  How are they doing in the assignment?  What roadblocks are they encountering? What can be done better?  Are there any skills that they feel need improving?  Do they feel like they are getting the support that they need?

The key is to ask questions, then listen to the answers and fix those things within your power.  If this was done, we’d likely have far fewer “losers”.

Hiring Best Practices

The biggest problem managers have in hiring people is that they believe they are a good judge of people. Peter Drucker said, “To be a judge of people is not a power given to mere mortals”.

The best we can do is to have a thorough diagnostic process. Candidates must be rigorously researched and tested. People should always be hired based on what they can do.

George C. Marshall had 5 steps for hiring people:

1. Marshall carefully thought through the “assignment”. What objective was this person being asked to achieve? Job descriptions last a long time but assignments change frequently.

2. Marshall always considered 3-5 qualified candidates. Then asked the question, “Does this assignment fit this person?”

3. Marshall studied the performance records of the 3-5 candidates and paid particular attention to the results they achieved, and how they were achieved. It is often the “how” that reveals their strengths.

4. Marshall always discussed their performance with former bosses and colleagues.

5. When the decision was made, Marshall made sure the new hire understood the “assignment”. The best way to that is by asking them to explain their strategy as to how they are going to be successful at the job. Then he closely monitored them for 90 days to see if their strategy was working.

Attack of the Zombies – How America is Vulnerable to Cyber Attack

Hackers from China launched a massive attack on several large network operations centers at 8:00am CST March 8, 2011.  As many as 1.5 million packets per second paralyzed the networks.  The perpetrators used malware to invade servers all over the Internet that have weak security. It’s called a distributed denial of service attack or DDoS for short. 

After the poorly protected servers were infected, they became zombies, listening for instructions from their remote mastermind.  When the command was given the army of zombie servers began attacking networks carrying an opposing political point of view.  Blogging sites such as WordPress and others have experienced such an attack in the past week.

So how much damage can an army of zombies do?  It is not so dissimilar to a zombie movie.  You know, the one where someone is talking to a friend and they don’t realize they’ve been infected and suddenly they turn on them and begin chewing on their necks.  You might think that these zombie servers are off in some third world country.  Not so.  Many are right here in our midst.  It is not as simple as AT&T cutting the cable to disconnect the threat.  The attackers come from everywhere.  It’s a zombie fest where you have to deal with blocking many zombies coming from different directions.  They can literally stop all communication dead in its tracks.

How much trouble can zombies cause?  Basically, when zombie servers attack, your network can become as isolated as those folks caught in the local shopping mall trying to fend off the zombies coming in through the doors, windows and breaking through walls.  We have become so dependent on the Internet that everything is subject to failure.  Even the phones can die because many now use voice over IP (VoIP) and transmit over the Internet.  It is a critical problem and a vulnerability for America.

Are there any weapons that will kill the zombies?  The answer to that question is yes.  Cisco makes a product that detects a potential attack and takes corrective action – as do other companies.  The problem is that many large network companies don’t use them.  In the case of large Internet companies like AT&T, they don’t discriminate and send packets through regardless of their nature.  They make no attempt to distinguish zombies.  It is left up to the network operation center to fend for themselves.  An operation with a big budget can afford this kind of equipment but it is still out of reach for a small operation.

The bottom line is that we know this is a problem for national security.  We even have a technical solution.  The question is what is the plan to protect American infrastructure?  I feel like the professor shouting Buehler, Buehler – it’s an ‘80’s thing.


Windows XP and 2003 at Risk

If you are the owner of Windows XP or Windows Server 2003 you are at risk of a pretty significant hack – at least for the time being. 

It’s an attack on the “Windows Help Center”.  The bad news about this attack is that some unwitting, or perhaps witting, genius at Google published how someone can execute the attack without considering the risk he was exposing all XP users to.  The fellow’s name is Tavis Ormondy, a Google security researcher.  Come on Tavis – use some common sense and do the right thing.  As a result of his error in judgement systems in Europe are experiencing a significant peak in hacks.  The U.S. may be next.

So, right now, as of today, if you are using Windows XP or running a Windows Server 2003 for your business you are at risk.  If you visit a web site that is exploiting the security hole your machine could be in big trouble – which is why I’m writing this article – to get the word out.  

The vulnerability exists in the Windows “Help Center”.  Yes – the same one that provides automated updates.  I won’t bore you with the details but you can download a temporary fix that will protect you from attack but it is not a permanent fix.  My understanding is that the download will also disable some help center functionality.  But I recommend you do it as soon as possible.  You can download the fix at

This is probably a pretty good time to upgrade to Windows 7 if you’ve been thinking about it.  My understanding is that a permanent fix could be as long as 2 months away – due to testing and all of the other stuff involved in a release.

Here is an informative Computer World article on the subject:

Back to the Future! Whatever Happened to Made in America?

Back to the Future!

If you are as old as I am (and I don’t consider myself ancient) you’ve lived through some pretty interesting recessions.  You’ve seen home mortgage rates at 17.5%, incredible inflation and economic hard times that were actually worse than what we are seeing right now (with the exception of the insane spending by the government which has reached new heights).  I know that’s no consolation to those of you who have lost their job, but I want to share a stupid idea that worked in the 1980’s during the Reagan Administration and I have no doubt would work again.

Before I get into the details let me ask you a question.  If you walk into WalMart, Target, Sears, Macy’s or any other store and picked up and item off of the shelf, how many would say “Made in America”.  I think the odds are that it would say “Made in China”.

In order to keep this simple I want to use a simple example.  Let’s say we are a tribe of hunters and we have a person who is much better at making bows and arrows than hunting.  So he stops hunting and trades his bows and arrows for wild game from other hunters.  He discovers that he can accumulate more wild game making bows and arrows than hunting.  Based on the labor and materials he can sell his bow and arrow for an equivalent of $10.  He is so successful that he builds a factory and hires people to make bows and arrows and the economy thrives.

One day he discovers that he can buy a bow and arrow from the tribe in China for $5.  It is almost as good as the one his factory makes and he doesn’t have to put up with all of the regulation, unions and taxes.  All he has to do is buy the cheap bows and arrows from China and resell them to his tribe.  So he shuts down his factory and tells all of his people that the tribe is now in the “Information Age” and it isn’t necessary for the tribe to actually produce things any more.  They all need to get retrained for the future.

Things go well for a while and everyone is happy because they are buying bows and arrows cheaper than what it would cost them to make them.  But after a year, the chief of the tribe is upset because he used to get a small percentage of each bow and arrow maker employed in the factory.  Now they don’t have jobs and the tribe revenue has fallen.  But the chief still needs the money and doesn’t want to cut spending.  So he goes to the tribe in China and asks for a loan until the tribe in America gets back on its feet. 

The tribe in China has been so busy making bows and arrows for the American tribe and the rest of the world that they have plenty of money saved up and they are glad to lend the money to their biggest and oldest customer.  After all, the tribe in China made $226.8 billion dollars in 2009 by selling bows and arrows to the American tribe.

The Role of Technology in Education

Technology is transforming the way we learn and teach.  We are already seeing learning being transformed into an “open system” via the Internet. It is readily accessible to the highly educated, the young and those who failed to get an education in their youth. The future of education is no longer the monopoly of brick and mortar schools.

The last great change in the way people were educated occurred with the advent of the printed book by Gutenberg in 1440.  The foundations for our current system of education was established by John Amos Comenius between 1628 and 1632 when he published his work titled “Didactica Magna” which proclaimed that both noble and ignoble children, boys and girls alike, should be sent to school and educated.  He proposed that society would benefit if they were occupied learning “useful things”.

The way that subjects have been taught has not changed much until now. We have known for hundreds of years that we learn behaviorally through drill, repetition and feedback.  And that learning is best done in stages and that those stages are mastered differently, either more or less easily, by different students.  When children of different abilities and interests are grouped by age and force fed subject matter it does not account for those differences.  In this way technology is far superior in providing instruction to the student depending on their own rate of learning.  The activity of the teacher is no longer focused on the repetition, drill and administration, but on the leading, directing and motivating the student.

With technology, students become their own instructors.  We are seeing children become computer literate at a very young age.  They are competent at interfacing with and using computers as a learning tool. Today’s labor intensive schools will become unnecessary in the future.

The challenge for educators, and their top priority, must be a commitment to literacy.  This commitment is crucial to society and to the young student.  Only when a student attains a high level of skill and mastery of a subject do they become self confident, competent and able to contribute to society.

The role of the teacher will change.  While technology is the best tool for providing repetition and practice to the student – it is boring.  Computer programs can be written to lessen the boredom but the real motivation for the student is when they realize achievement.   Achievement is the strongest motivator and one that is recognized by our society.  The athlete who practices speed skating spends hours and hours going in circles on an ice track.  But the one who achieves Olympic fame is honored by a gold medal for their achievement.  This achievement inspires and motivates others to spend hours and years in boring repetition in order to become the best in the world.  The importance of repetition and drill will not be eliminated by computers.

Technology can free the teacher from the repetitive and routine activities.  It can provide the teacher with the results of the student’s efforts so that they can be analyzed in order to identify strengths and weaknesses.  This can be done through test results, video tape or monitoring the learning process.  The role of the teacher will be to recognize and acknowledge achievement and direct the student to mastery of the subject.  The student will then be able to contribute to society.

Technology also provides employers and adults seeking advanced education new opportunities to master subjects without interfering with their daily responsibilities.  The role of educators in advanced subjects will focus not only on directing and leading, but on challenging the student to new levels of achievement by focusing on their strengths.

The new “open system” of learning is essential to our rapidly changing society.  New techniques, tools and systems are constantly being introduced.  This requires that the student learn new things about a subject they had previously mastered.  Technology and the economy are no longer static during the lifetime of the student.  It is changing – sometimes rapidly. 

In 1965 Gordon Moore, the co-founder of Intel, introduced the concept that technology is improving at an exponential rate.  It has held true that “data density” has doubled approximately every 18 months since that time.  This has led to the flat screens, netbooks, highly functional cell phones like the iPhone and now reading devices like the Kindle, Nook and iPad that can store 10,000 books and play video.  This frees the student from studying at a physical location and opens new teaching possibilities.  But, it also means that new subject matter may also be added at a furious pace.  In order to stay at an advanced level of literacy, the student must commit to a life a continual learning.  This can only be effectively done by technology.

Revolutionary automated outbound call system using Skype

Sometimes I love my job as a Software Architect because I get to invent new toys to play with that make life easier, less tedious and, on occasion, provide real value.  Well, I just finished designing one of those toys.  It is a very different kind of automated calling system that uses Skype voice over IP, the latest text to speech technology and seamless web services to do something very cool.

Over the past 10 years research has shown that if schools hold students accountable for their behavior they typically reduce problems like being late to class, using cell phones, etc. by up to 80%.   They also know that the minute they stop holding the students accountable they slip back into the bad behavior almost immediately.  In the late 1990’s our company pioneered parental involvement by being the first to instantly send an email to the parent when a tardy slip or disciplinary action was assigned to a student.  Since then, (one of FTI’s companies) has issued over 3,000,000 tardy slips and almost 2,000,000 disciplinary actions – but there has always been a problem.  What if the parent doesn’t have email or it isn’t in the student record?

The old solution to the problem was either to print a letter and mail it to the parent or make a phone call.  The problem with the letter is that mailing costs continue to rise.  And while we have automated the process of printing so that the school doesn’t have to print labels or address envelopes, it is still labor intensive.  Some schools would have to mail 200 letters a day and at a buck a letter it could cost 180 x $200 = $36,000 per year.   Not exactly the best solution – even if you cut the cost in half.

If a school wants to automate phone calls to parents, installing their own dialer can be very expensive.  Installing an automated dialer to call parents requires a separate computer, installation of a very expensive digital phone card that costs at least $2500 and is difficult to install and configure – to say the least – if you ever tried to configure one you’d know what I mean.  The school also must pay for a monthly charge for all of the dedicated phone lines.   The cost of a dialer for a school can cost $5,000-10,000 a year when you consider phone lines, support and installation.  Then you have the problem of setting up the data so that it can begin making the calls which can be a lot of work – and the reality is that most systems cannot provide the data that can be fed into an automated calling program. For schools on tight budgets, that cost is out of the question.

The new system is amazing.  When a school issues disciplinary action of any kind to a student and the parent email is missing, a customized phone call to the parent is made within minutes.  The greeting and message tells the parent about the offense and when detention or other corrective action will be held.  Every message is unique and in a human voice.  The result of the call is then stored in the student record so that a school administrator can see the result of every phone call. 

The school doesn’t need to install any hardware or software to make this happen.  All they need is a browser and Internet connection.  The rest is done automatically.  Instead of spending thousands of dollars and having to put up with the support headaches it only costs them $39 a month regardless of the number of phone calls.  You might say – really?  But don’t services of this type always charge per call?  You would be right.  Most services charge 4-10 cents per call.  If a school made 200 calls per day it would cost  $160-400 per month.  How can we offer this service for only $39 per month?  You see – I told you that sometimes inventing new toys is fun!

The reason we can do it for that amount is because we use Skype as our phone service.  We have a server that talks directly to the eCampus server in real time to see if any calls have to be made.  If there are calls, then it gets the message that is unique for every call and converts it from digital text to speech using the latest in speech technology.  It sounds more like a human than a robot and I’ve even had people talking to the system thinking a person was on the other end of the line.  Pretty cool stuff!  Then, it dials the parent’s phone number using a special interface we built into Skype.  If the parent picks up the phone it plays the message, if not it leaves a voice mail.  If there is no answer, it tracks that as well.  When the call is finished, it updates the student record with the result.  This takes interaction to a whole new level – and it is incredibly cost effective!

I’ve been thinking about how this technology can be used by doctors and dentists for reminding patients.  Organizations for announcing meetings or reminders.  It is pretty powerful and opens up a whole new means of communication that was previously cost prohibitive.

So I’ve been watching my new toy quietly going about it’s business every day improving the communication between teacher and parent.  Something that would not have been possible 5 years ago.